The most important moments of impact involve one human being connecting with another human being. The relationship could be emotionally charged, direct, or indirect. Either way, what you’ve thought through and done before sets up the moment of impact and what happens afterwards as you think through and implement how to connect.

(Note this is the fourth of The Five Most Important Questions for BRAVE Leaders.)

Setting up, managing, and following through from those moments of impact well requires a tremendous amount of thinking and work. In many ways, this is the heart of inspiring and enabling others.

Let’s suggest some frameworks for communication.


  1. Get compliance with indirect communication telling people what to do.
  2. Invite contribution with direct communication testing, selling or consulting.
  3. Deserve commitment with emotional communication around co-creation.

Now let’s go into a little more on the components of that: engagement, communication levels and persuasion:

Engagement: Compliant – Contributing – Committed

Crossing the secret of happiness (good for others, good for me, good at it,) and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs produces a way to look at different levels of engagement – disengaged, compliant, contributing, committed.

  • Disengaged – Those disengaged or engaged with the wrong things hurt the organization. They don’t meet the minimum standards and distract others.
  • Compliant – At the first level of engagement, compliant people do no harm. They show up. They observe. They focus on what’s “good for me” and meet the minimum requirements to satisfy their biological and physiological needs.
  • Contributing – One level up, contributors do things they are “good at”. They collaborate with others and help as they seek belonging and self-esteem.
  • Committed – At the highest level are the people trying to do “good for others”. They care about the organization’s purpose and teach others as part of their own self-actualization.

Communication Levels: Emotional – Direct – Indirect

Moving people through from disengaged to compliant to contributing to committed requires different levels of communication.

  • Indirect communication can build awareness and enough understanding for people to be able to comply with requests and direction.
  • Direct communication can build the understanding that enables people to make active contributions.
  • Emotional communication can change what people believe and how they feel as part of inspiring their commitment to an idea or cause.


Bryan Smith lays out different ways of persuading people in a section in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook[1]: tell – sell – test – consult – co-create. We have found that

  • Telling someone to do something yields compliance at best.
  • Selling, testing, and consulting sets people up to contribute.
  • Co-creating is one of the best ways to engender commitment.

Communication is the foundation of successful relationships, both in business and in our personal lives. Excel at communicating with different styles.


Manage your communication plan as an iterative set of concurrent conversations around a set of topics that you propose and guide. Shape it as best you can, but know that in most cases some element of your communication network will always be taking on a direction of its own, including ones you didn’t anticipate or possibly may not like.

Be acutely aware of how different media get different results. If you really aren’t interested in people airing their opinions about the newly announced merger, don’t invite it. If you feel that you have a culture that can embrace this and can convert it to a positive energy-building activity, then you might want to consider it.

Sandy Rogers et al suggest loyalty is built on empathy, responsibility and generosity.[2] Empathetically make human connections, listening to learn. Lead with others’ needs, taking responsibility for getting the real job done and following up to strengthen relationships while generously enabling, sharing and surprising others with unexpected extras.

You’re going to need to be, do and say your message over and over again at different times, with different people, in different ways.

[1] from The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Senge et al, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 1994

[2] “Fierce Loyalty”, Sandy Rogers, Shawn Moon, Leena Rinne Harper Collins, November 2018